The importance of multilingualism
Language competences are at the heart of building the European Education Area. They are indispensable for mobility, cooperation and mutual understanding across borders.
The co-existence of many languages in Europe is a powerful symbol of the European Union's (EU) aspiration to be united in diversity, one of the cornerstones of the European project. Languages define personal identities, but are also part of a shared inheritance.
The EU has promoted language learning across Europe for a long time. The arguments supporting ambitious education policies with regard to language learning are plentiful and have been laid down in various Commission policy documents
- for individuals, learning languages creates personal and professional opportunities, especially citizenship of an EU Member State guarantees freedom of movement
- for society, it fosters cultural awareness, mutual understanding and social cohesion
- for companies, workers with language and intercultural competences are a vital resource, helping businesses to succeed and grow in global markets
Multilingualism as a key competence
Multilingualism is one of eight key competences needed for personal fulfilment, a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, employability, active citizenship and social inclusion according to the Council recommendation on Key Competences for lifelong learning.
Yet, too many young Europeans still leave school without a working knowledge of a second language.
The 2011-12 EU survey on language skills (held in 14 EU countries) showed that
- 42% of 15 year-old pupils tested had attained ‘independent user’ level (B1/B2 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) in their first foreign language
- 25% had reached this level in a second foreign language
- 14% of pupils lacked even a basic knowledge of one
For all these reasons, the EU has set objective of improving language teaching and learning at an early age as a key priority.
Encouraging early foreign language learning
The European Commission is working together with EU Member States to meet an ambitious goal - to help all young people acquire by the end of compulsory education two other languages in addition to their language of schooling.
This vision was confirmed by the Council Recommendation on a comprehensive approach to the teaching and learning of languages adopted by the Member States in May 2019.
The messages included in the 2019 Recommendation build on the work of national experts from all Member States, collaborating with the European Commission on how to improve language learning.
Language learning from an early age is also embedded in the Council recommendation on high-quality early childhood education and care systems.
EU actions promoting multilingualism
The Erasmus+ programme
Through the Erasmus+ programme, the Commission offers many opportunities to people in education, training, youth and sport in Europe to hone their language skills by engaging in learning and training abroad.
The programme contributes to boosting language learning from an early age, by supporting pupils in school education and vocational education and training to participate in a learning mobility abroad.
Individual pupils, a group or a class of pupils can spend a period of time studying at a host school or performing a traineeship abroad. The programme has an estimated budget of €26.2 billion - it has nearly doubled its funding compared to the previous period.
Consultation of experts
From 2016 to 2017, the Commission organised a series of thematic panels on languages, literacy and multilingual classrooms, which led to the publication of two key reports
In 2019, to support the implementation of the Recommendation and to facilitate peer learning, the Commission organised a series of implementation seminars on language learning that concluded in the publication of the report Education begins with language - Publications Office of the EU (europa.eu).
The topics of linguistic diversity in schools, multilingual classrooms and building language awareness in schools are further integrated in the new initiative Pathways to school success.
The LISTIAC project
The Commission supported the LISTIAC project (Linguistically Sensitive Teaching in All Classrooms) from 2019 to 2022, which developed and tested a theoretically informed reflection tool which aimed to make (future) teachers more linguistically sensitive in their beliefs, attitudes and actions.
The Commission is strengthening evidence-based policymaking.
In 2020, it commissioned a NESET (Network of Experts working on the Social dimension of Education and Training) report exploring emerging innovative approaches and strategies for language teaching in Europe.
These approaches contribute to the implementation of the EU Council Recommendation on languages by supporting learners’ plurilingualism and inspiring educators and policy-makers to innovate and implement forward-looking policies and practices in language education.
Monitoring is essential to help gather data on existing levels of second-language proficiency and to support measures to improve the outcomes of policies and initiatives promoting language learning.
Each year, the Commission publishes the Education and Training Monitor. The Monitor gathers a wide range of evidence to show the evolution of national education and training systems across the European Union (EU).
The Commission also works with Eurostat and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to collect and analyse data on language teaching and learning across Europe.
The OECD is currently developing a voluntary module on Foreign Language Assessment for assessing competencies in the first foreign language among 15-year-olds, to be introduced with the PISA round in 2025.
The first cycle will start with the assessment of English, which is the most commonly taught foreign language in schools around the world.
Cooperation with international organisations
The Commission cooperates with international organisations, such as the Council of Europe and its European Centre of Modern Languages.
Cooperation with the Centre, supported with Erasmus+ funding, focuses on promoting innovation in language teaching through two paths
- support for multilingual classrooms, to help young migrants integrate and excel in school. In the EU, just under 10% of all students learn in a language other than their mother tongue. Schools need to adapt their teaching methods to engage with children's linguistic and cultural backgrounds in a positive manner, enabling students to thrive throughout school.
- the Relating language curricula, tests and examinations to the Common European Framework of Reference (RELANG) initiative focuses on assisting educational authorities in relating language examinations to the proficiency levels defined in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)